At its heart, synthwave music is a love letter to convertibles, night drives, sunny beaches, and ‘80s nostalgia. Staying true to the genre, the mullet-sporting Ace Marino delivers the goods on his debut EP, a six-song effort with a diverse selection of music to entice and excite fans of retro synthesizer glory. Stylistically, Cocaine Flamingo lands near the center of synthwave music, and it frequently delivers a sound that recalls early contributors to the genre such as Lost Years and Miami Nights 1984. The recording is no rehash, however. Ace Marino keeps his recording modern and relevant by adding plenty of detail in the instrumentation and incorporating touches of outside genres. The result is a fresh spin on the genre’s classic sound that is distinctly more 2017 than 2007.
The album kicks off with “Delorean Night Drive,” a fittingly named piece that summons up images of retrofuturistic sports cars driving through neon-soaked city streets. A deep, pulsating beat powers the track forward, and the effectively minimal melodic elements leave the rhythm in full control of the music. The song’s shadowy tone has a touch of darksynth in it, suggesting the night drive may be more of an illegal street race than a sightseeing venture, and though this element never fully reveals itself, Ace Marino effectively plants the seed for some of the sinister songwriting to follow. “Delorean Night Drive” has a strong cinematic feel that works well as an opener, and it transitions effortlessly into the notably brighter “Communication.”
The cheeriest entry on Cocaine Flamingo, “Communication” opens subtly with a steady beat and a twinkling melody, but soon expands to deliver deep bass notes and broader synth tones that call up images of a sun-drenched beach on a hot summer afternoon. A robotic voice calls out the song title in select places, and Ace Marino subtly slips in attractive bits of percussion and surprising background elements to pull the listener in and keep the track interesting for its three and a half minute running length.
As “Communication” reaches its conclusion, two things about Ace Marino’s songwriting stand out. The first is that he is capable of transitioning between different musical moods with confidence and ease. The other is that he has no illusions about the role and nature of his songs. Each of the attractive entries on Cocaine Flamingo is structurally straightforward, introducing a handful of sections and then revisiting them once or twice with new bits of melody or percussion added into the mix before packing up and moving on to the next track. As with all pop music, this direct approach is well suited to synthwave music, and Ace Marino keeps the songs interesting with his tightly woven and detail-oriented compositions.
However, there is a subtle sophistication in Cocaine Flamingo that presents itself in the song lengths. Ace Marino knows precisely how long his tracks need to be to deliver their message, and he smartly concludes them before they can wear out their welcome. This willingness to keep each song short creates a desire in the listener to return to the piece and enjoy it multiple times, and although this aspect of music craftsmanship may seem fundamental, it’s worth pointing out the success of it on Cocaine Flamingo. A tragically high number of songwriters within synthwave fail to recognize the value of brevity, and Ace Marino’s willingness to set aside ego and self-indulgence in order to deliver polished and succinct synthwave gems puts him ahead of many celebrated artists in the genre.
Following the sunny “Communication,” Ace Marino delves once more into darker tones on “Danger Things.” The brooding feel of the song is established through sonorous bass notes while an eerie ambient tone sings out over the top to give the music a pervasive sense of dread. “Danger Things” is perhaps Ace Marino’s most elaborate composition on the album, with a high number of disparate effects weaving in and out of each other as the music progresses. The result is an immensely satisfying track that, like the songs before it, concludes at precisely the right moment.
Another sunny jam arrives on “Welcome,” further demonstrating Ace Marino’s capacity for creating varied soundscapes. However, despite its pleasant disposition, “Welcome” is perhaps the album’s least engaging track. The song tends to feels aimless and comes off as the audial equivalent of a daydream. It’s an inoffensive entry, but it’s missing the spark and memorability of its neighbors.
Fortunately, Cocaine Flamingo finishes strong with a pair of tracks that best demonstrate Ace Marino’s ear for true synthwave music. The first is “Neon Love,” the album’s most classically handsome entry, and one that feels like a casually funk-infused incarnation of Miami Nights 1984 tracks like “Ocean Drive” and “Saved by the Bell.” The final entry, “After Midnight,” is an essential addition to any synthwave night driving playlist, and the music perfectly captures the feel and smell of a cool night breeze rushing in through an open car window. The style of “After Midnight” is more unique to Ace Marino than “Neon Love,” though the sound of Synthwave 1.0 still shines brightly through it. Notably, the track has a strongly introspective attitude, and it’s easily the most emotionally stirring entry on the recording.
As a debut EP, Cocaine Flamingo is an admirable creation that is edifying in its own right and shows serious promise for the future. The songs never reach the pinnacle of the synthwave genre, though the music is consistently engaging with several beautiful and well executed moments. The recording’s biggest strength lies in the diversity of its songs, and the many compelling compositions are strengthened through restraint and a willingness to keep each track to a suitable length. Ace Marino’s dedication to the heart of synthwave music and his skillful implementation of the style is a welcome contribution to a scene that has increasingly lost touch with its roots, and the result is a piece of ‘80s-infused synth nostalgia that can be enjoyed and revisited numerous times.
Rating: 87 / 100
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